Yulin Dog Meat Festival: Animal Groups Urge Authorities To End "Gruesome" Practice

Thousands of dogs and cats, many believed to be stolen pets, are inhumanely slaughtered at the festival each year.

WARNING: Graphic images.

Animal rights groups in China have delivered a letter signed by 235,000 people to authorities in a bid to end the "gruesome" Yulin Dog Meat Festival.

Thousands of dogs and cats, many of which animal rights groups believe to be stolen pets, are slaughtered at the festival each year, which has been running since 2010.

A letter from the Humane Society International (HSI), supported by more than 80 Chinese animal groups, was delivered to Madam Qin, chairwoman of HSI's Chinese partner group, the Capital Animal Welfare Association (CAWA).

It urges a number of crackdowns against the event, including imposing road blocks to prevent trucks carrying dogs and cats into the area, imposing heavy fines, and confiscating animals and placing them in the care of activists.

Dogs are kept in overcrowded cages, waiting to be sold. Photo: AAP.

"Everyone who signed out letter is standing shoulder to shoulder with the thousands of people across China who passionately oppose this brutal dog and cat meat trade," said HSI's Adam Parascandola.

"The annual Yulin festival has come to symbolise the cruelty of this abhorrent trade, and in a few days' time thousands of dogs and cats, mostly stolen pets, will take their last terrified breaths in a Yulin slaughterhouse.

"I have witnessed the horror of that scene first hand, and it's something I will never forget.

"This year is the Year of the Dog, and there's no better opportunity to end the suffering."

The festival -- technically known as the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival -- is due to take place in Yulin, a city in China's Guangxi Region, from June 21 to 30 this year.

Although dog meat is traditional in China, the Yulin Dog Meat Festival is not. It's been running annually since 2010, with animal rights groups claiming it was launched by dog traders in a bid to boost profits. There was no evidence of dog meat eating in Yulin prior to 2010, says HSI. Less than 20 percent of the Chinese population eats it at all.

"Yulin, like all of China's dog meat trade, would not exist without crime," HSI's spokesperson Wendy Higgins told ten daily.

"Most of the dogs and cats are stolen, either pet taken from people's backyards or picked up off the streets, and China's food safety regulations are also breached because the animals are driven across multiple provinces without the legally required health certificates for each animal.

"The suffering and abuse the animals endure is unspeakable, for a meat that only about 20 percent of Chinese people ever eat."

Animals are crammed into wire cages, piled onto trucks, and driven as many as 2,400 kilometres to Yulin. HSI calls it a "excruciatingly cruel transport" method, during which dogs stacked at the bottom of the trucks become drenched in urine and faeces, while those in the middle can suffocate.

Butchered dogs for sale in a market of Yulin city in 2015. Photo: AAP.

Others can die from illness, dehydration or heatstroke, while yet more animals are injured by the sharp wires of the cages and rough handling by dog traders. The animals are then brutally killed by being beaten with metal poles in full view of one another, claims HSI.

"There is a misguided belief that a painful, anxiety-ridden death means better tasting, adrenaline-rich meat," it says.

Yulin authorities have been distancing themselves from the event since 2014,  yet despite driving the practice underground with minor policies -- such as ordering Yulin restaurants to reduce dog meat dishes, and briefly imposing heavy fines for the sale of dog meat in 2017 -- the festival is still set to go ahead in mid-June.

Higgins said the HSI is determined to amplify the voices of animal groups within China to help bring the festival to a close for good.

"Change needs to come from within, and there is enormous and passionate opposition to this cruelty in China from animal groups and dog owners alike," she said.

A vendor sells dog meat to a customer in 2015. Photo: AAP.

The CAWA is part of that change, which has been calling for an end to the dog and cat meat trade not just in Yulin, but across China, for two decades. More than 10 million dogs and four million cats are estimated to be killed every year for their meat.

"This industry is not only cruel, but hurts the consumers, public health, our young people, and the reputation of our country," said CAWA's chairwoman Madam Qin.

"We call on the Yulin authorities to take actions to stop the mass slaughter and incoming dog trucks. [We are] always ready to assist the Yulin authorities to take all necessary actions to end the trade in the city."